Behind the Scenes in My Quirky Business

A current to-do list. There is a madness to my methods.

Sometimes people will send me messages asking, how do you make this work? How do you earn a living, find clients or get published? I never really know what to say because the process of building a life as a writer, life coach, and now a transformative tango guide was slow and winding, full of so many twist and turns. You could say the path has been full of to-do lists. See above.

I’ve been writing professionally since 1997 when I wrote for the Village Voice, and I’ve been at work on creating a business since 2011. I have learned from so many people on both fronts and I’m still learning. There’s no one single way to answer the question.

If you have your own business or you have thought about creating one, your Facebook feed might be full of ads about programs that cost $10,000 and promise a quick-fix answer. While there is a lot of helpful education out there, and I’ve benefited from taking many classes and working with coaches (in fact, I never could have gotten this far without all that learning), there is no single magic bullet. If you’re constructing a quirky business or writing career, you have to learn from your own path. From experimentation, leaps, and experience. Each person’s journey will be unique. If you want to wrote a book, of course your book will be unique too.

SEO expert and entrepreneur lady Cinthia Pacheco interviewed me for this her podcast Digitally Overwhelmed. Cinthia helps women online entrepreneurs with analytics and content strategy.

In this podcast, we go behind the scenes and I tell you about the development of my quirky business combining writing books, coaching, and my tango adventures . . .now “wet” adventures in Brazil as well.

We talk about:
* Bringing together disparate interests in your business–or do you have to focus on one thing? Is it OK to have an SEO business and post pictures of your cat? Is it OK to talk about quirkyalone and tango?
* Fears of failure. I still work with these all the time.
* The importance of finding your people for support. Indispensable. No one does it alone.

I recommend that you listen to this if you’re interested in building your own quirky business. We try to be as real and helpful as possible!

Here’s the podcast link to give it a listen! (Scroll down to listen.)

Chongos, Histéricos, and Chamuyeros: A Dating Dictionary for Buenos Aires

caption: Buenos Aires amantes (lovers) can be passionate. Hernan hung this sign up in the street for Flor, “I love you with all my life. Never will we be far apart again.” The phone number on the right: call it if you want to make a sign!

Argentines are very expressive, and their Spanish is distinct from, for example, Mexican Spanish. There are plenty of books and websites out there that explain Buenos Aires slang, or lunfardo–slang words you will never learn in a high school Spanish class.

Over the last four years of living in Buenos Aires I have learned there is a particular modern lunfardo, or slang, when it comes to dating, sex, love and relationships. Certain words would come up again and again. Once I understood the words I understood the culture and what was happening in my own life.

So I have put together this dating glossary for you.  I thought it would be a service to the many women (and men) who come to Argentina looking for love. (Or who simply find themselves here, dating). Dating can be bewildering in another culture, and language can help guide you. Knowledge is power. When you are able to name a behavior, or a way of being, you are able to say: I want this, and I don’t want that. You can say you want a chongo, or not. You’ll know what it means to put someone “in the freezer” and why so many men and women call the opposite sex “hysterical.”

Whether you come here on vacation or you live here, here are some words to help you date in Buenos Aires.

Chamuyero: Once I was at an Internations expat event at a bar talking to two Porteños (Porteño means Buenos Aires resident), and I asked them, what is the essence of Buenos Aires? They said, with impish glee, chamuyo.

Chamuyo is bullshit. Sometimes poetic bullshit, but bullshit nonetheless. A chamuyero is a bullshitter, par excellence. Chamuyero is truly the ultimate porteño word. While Rio de Janeiro has its malandros (charming tricksters who do anything to avoid work), Buenos Aires has its chamuyeros.

A chamuyero talks in circles but really they are talking about nothing. You can’t pin them down. Everything they say is airy and unreliable.

In dating, chamuyo is flattery. Chamuyo is quite related to the piropo, a flattering or romantic compliment to seduce a woman. Piropos can be a sport; there are plenty of websites listing piropos to use with a woman or a girlfriend or wife: For example, here’s an Argentine piropo submitted on a user-generated piropo website: “Con un mate y tu compania ya es resuelta la vida!” (With mate and your company, life is already resolved!) That’s a sweet one, and not too over the top. I could believe that piropo or get off on believing it.

The difference between a piropo and chamuyo is chamuyo is clearly bullshit–and totally generic. My chamuyo red flag goes up when a guy starts using the word “princesa,” for example. You can filter out the chamuyo or you can just get off the chamuyo, knowing it’s only that. See also: Lie to me, I love it when you lie to me.

A chamuyero milonguero (tango dancer and frequenter of the milongas, events where we dance tango) may flatter you by telling you what a wonderful dancer you are. In this case, I’m all for the chamuyo. Bring it on! I love it when a guy tells me I dance well–or even better, when he talks about our dance connection (if it feels true). Argentine men are much more likely to give flattery during a dance than American men. A little flattery is actually great technique–it helps me relax and dance better.

Translation: Ah, you left. I thought you kept partying and you had found yourself a chongo for a touch and go
Hahahaha
Rest!
LOLLLLLL
Could be!
But today no

Chongo: I learned about “chongo” in the best way, from one of my favorite Argentine tanguera friends. A “chongo” is a “touch and go”—usually a man (they don’t talk so much about chongas, though it’s possible to be one) who wants sex and nothing else. As she explained to me, if you’re bored, alone, and you don’t have anyone else in your life, maybe you want to send a message to your “chongo.” As if on cue, just after she told me about the “chongo,” another woman walked behind us at a table on the milonga and said a guy was “re chongo” (really chongo). This word strikes me as powerful! A lot of men (and perhaps women) want to move really fast in Buenos Aires and have sex quickly. A good percentage of them equally move on. Chongos are into seduction, quick sex, y nada mas (nothing more). These people would be chongos, or chongas, and you can decide whether you want that or not. Knowledge is power, ladies and gentlemen.

Histérico: I don’t think it’s possible to date in Buenos Aires for longer than a few months without learning the word “histérico.” It’s really a must that you learn about this word.

What is “histérico”? In English, hysterical means, among other things, “feeling or showing extreme and unrestrained emotion.” In Buenos Aires, “histérico” is mostly about drama and game-playing. A histérico is insanely seductive and passionate until you start reciprocating, then he or she disappears, and then begins the endless-hot-cold behavior. Histéricos are inconsistent. Not stable or trusted. In essence,histéricos enjoy the chase—not just once, but over and over again. So don’t take it personally if they disappear. A histérico is like a serial chongo but with more drama. Love is a battlefield. Buenos Aires is like anywhere else, there are also men and women who want relationships, so you can look for the signs of histérico or chongo and make choices accordingly.

Once you have a name for the condition of histérico, it’s quite helpful. I’ve helped two women realize they were involved with histéricos, and as soon as they have a name for the condition they seemed relieved and were better able to let go and move on.

“In the Freezer”: A guy who probably wanted to be my chongo taught me the expression “in the freezer.” He was talking about a past relationship and said that he had dated a woman for a few months, but then the relationship went “in the freeezer.” “What does that mean?” I asked. “We stopped talking for a while, then we started talking again.”  I found this expression to be hilarious. I tried hard to stifle my laughter. I don’t want anyone to put me in the freezer. “Please baby, don’t put me in the freezer! I am not a chicken breast or a bag of peas!”

When talking about this expression with my friend Alexandra, she suggested an additional interpretation: If you’re going out with someone but there’s someone else you want to save for later, you might put the second person “in the freezer” to possibly take out later to thaw.

Mimosa: People in Buenos Aires are affectionate and they kiss to greet (just one kiss, as opposed to the French, who do two kisses on either cheeks.) Men too kiss each other. It’s quite a contrast to the American handshake or back-slap. I see a therapist in Buenos Aires–a very Porteno thing to do, self-knowledge is valued here. When I see my (female) therapist, we kiss each other on the cheeks hello and goodbye. A hello or goodbye kiss with a therapist would never happen in the States.

Mimosa is a word that expresses affection–but in the context of being lovers. Many Argentines have talked to me about the importance of “mimos”–mimos are like love pats and cuddles. I think of a cat as being mimosa. A snuggly person is mimosa. This might be my favorite word in the Buenos AIres dating dictionary because I am mimosa.

Mujeron: A very sexy, va-va-voom Sophia Loren kind of woman, in full possession of her sexuality and sensuality. Buenos Aires is full of mujerones.

Pedazo de pelotudo: Piece of shit more or less. You might throw these words at a histérico, if you felt like it.

Pasional: Passionate. Argentines are very passionate, whether we are talking about love, or football. See the above message from Hernan to Flor.

Pendeviejo/a:  Pendejo means young person. A pendeviejo is an older person who dresses like a young person. (Viejo means old.) Imagine, a woman in her 70s. From behind you see her shapely body in tight jeans or a sparkly sequined dress and you think she is 30 then she turns around and you see she is rocking 70.

The pendevieja’s lack of shame in rocking the forever 21 look after retirement is rather spectacular. There are many pendeviejas in certain milongas. Pendeviejo/as don’t pay attention to the rules. They wear tight, flashy clothing that I never felt comfortable wearing, even when I was in my 20s. Buenos Aires is the place to be a pendevieja. You can be a pendeviejo too, an older guy in a youthful t-shirt, jeans and sneakers.

Telo: Telos are hotel rooms that you rent by the hour to have sex if you don’t have a private place at home, or you are on a date.

A few more tips on dating in Buenos Aires:

Confirming dates: Whereas in the US or Europe when you make a date with someone you can generally expect they will show up. It’s not really like that in Buenos Aires. People confirm with texts that the date is happening.

Lateness: Being late is more normal, and sometimes people think that is acceptable even on a first date (we are talking 20-30 minutes late). Sometimes the histericos will use lateness as a way to show you that you’re not that important or to play power games. I would steer clear of anyone who is not respectful with your time. (That can rule out some people.)

Online dating and apps: People in Buenos Aires are using Tinder, Happn, Bumble, and OKCupid. Your results will vary. I can say based on experience that you can meet good people on these apps—over four years, I’ve met a boyfriend, a lover, and a long-term friend. I can also say most people don’t put much effort into their profiles (the profiles are shorter, fewer words, than the States and Europe) and the swiping can be extremely depressing. Overall I would say OKCupid is the best bet because people are more likely to fill out and read a profile. The mobile apps are so geared for superficiality, which means chongos. If you want a chongo though, go for it!

Have any words to add to the Buenos Aires Dating Dictionary? I am sure there are more. Please add them in the comments. I’d love to see how tong this list can go.

++

Listen to the 1938 tango Song “El Chamuyo” before you go . . .

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Wanna go on an adventure to Buenos Aires? Come away with me and my team on a 7-Day Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires combining tango, travel, and personal growth. We teach you about tango as a dance, culture, and a metaphor for life and relationships. We will even help you avoid the histericos and connect with the nice dancers! 

Searching for new models of commitment

Birthday night back in Buenos Aires

It’s my birthday week, so I send you greetings from a new year. I’m back in Buenos Aires (I’ll fill you in on the rest of the Forever Young European tour later!).

For my actual birthday, I was able to have an intimate dinner at my apartment with a few close friends in Buenos Aires. My friends are scattered all over in California, the Northeast, Brazil and Europe. On birthdays, I’m nostalgic for times in San Francisco when my birthday parties were full of long-term friends. But really I am lucky to be able to have dinner with a few dear souls here in Buenos Aires.

Over the birthday dinner, I read my hopes for the next year, what I accomplished over the last year, and “what I know” – it was wonderful to be witnessed in my hopes and dreams and also for what I’ve accomplished in the last year. I recommend this kind of reflection–and sharing it with others to be witnessed–as a ritual for your birthday.

Over the dinner we had a fabulous conversation about what it’s like to be single expat without children living far from family or our roots. We were talking not only about our own personal situations but about this historical moment that we find ourselves in.

For those of us who are not following the traditional formula of what it means to be a woman (being a wife and mother, the caretaker of others) our lives can feel a bit off the map of the media and social media—the pressure might be as much internal as external when you don’t see your own reality reflected back to you very often. Facebook and Instagram can be a confrontational landmine with all those happy family and kid photos from friends. Even though I am well aware of how hard it is to be a mother, and I generally feel at peace with my decision, I still sometimes wonder, hmmm, am I missing out? Am I way off track here? What about MEEEE?

My anthropologist friend pointed out that it’s extremely recent in the history of humanity that any great number of women have been free to construct lives outside of the identity of caretaker. (Let’s say women’s participation in the workforce really took off in the last half of the 20th century. It’s not as if this revolution toward equality is complete—women still earn less than men and we assume women will be the primary caretakers of children and aging parents, or that women have an instinctive relationship with babies. If a woman doesn’t relate to babies or her baby, that’s seen as weird; a father doesn’t bond with a baby, well, that’s not his thing.)

It’s no wonder that a lot of us feel self-doubt about our paths through life, even if we come off as confident and having it all together.

We are pioneers in the big picture of herstory.

That’s what conversations like these are so valuable. That’s why we need each other.

I’ve been thinking a lot about companionship and community lately. As much as I love and need solitude, I also need committed relationships that provide companionship. Loneliness has become the modern epidemic. (Read this fantastic story on “All the Lonely People” for more.)

Facebook aims to fill the gap with “presence” and “community” but actually I find Facebook often tends to make us more distant from each other because people send a chat message or leave a comment rather than call. Social media can facilitate in-person connection but it can also create a lot of shallow relationships. (I believe that some more authentic online communities such as Gateway Women, o or online classes I have taught, can cut loneliness and bring people together—but it has to be an online community where you feel safe to be authentic and real.)

We all need to have some degree of companionship and commitment from others. One big attraction of a committed romantic relationship is that it’s committed. It’s not casual. It’s not, hey, I’ll show up for you if it’s convenient. It’s, I will show up for you. You show up for each other in times of need. If I get cancer, if I need help financially, and so on.

Many people–50% at any given time–are single in the US, for example.

Even if we really do want to be in a committed romantic relationship, how can we also create those kinds of commitments with friends? How do we create a feeling of being loved and solidly held with our friends too? What forms of support do you have in place and treasure, what do you appreciate?

We need other models for committed relationship. We are the pioneers, so what will those look like? One person won’t have all the answers. Many people will. I wonder what thoughts you have on the topic. What works for you in terms of companionship and support, or what do you wish for more of in your life?

I’m also going to be exploring the concept of a private, supportive online community–quirkytogether, if you will, where important and nourishing real conversations like this can take place and people can also meet each other, online and off. Having met many of you as my clients through coaching, my online classes, and the Tango Adventure, I know this is an ideal community for such supportive, nourishing, life conversations–and I’ll be asking for your thoughts on what a community could provide soon too.

Ode to Persistence

the cobbler who saved my shoes in Kolasin, Montenegro

A cap on my right tango shoe came off I discovered this afternoon, leaving the right heel wobbly and unstable. I danced about ten songs on it in the afternoon practica but I didn’t feel confident that I wouldn’t injure my ankle–and a sprained ankle is a big setback. I learned how much a sprained ankle can set you back from four months of physical therapy last year.

I asked one of the assistants in the Summer Tango Camp if there was a cobbler in town who fixed heels. The guy told me yes but only on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s Thursday so that would be of no use. (What kind of work ethic is that? says this American.) This guy offered no more help and went back to staring at his phone.

I went walking in the streets of Kolasin, this mountain town in Montenegro (in the Balkans, just south of Croatia) where I have been staying for two weeks. I asked the nail salon woman if anyone in town fixed shoes. She did my eyebrows and pedicure so she seemed like a good local to start with. She pointed me two kilometers down the road. It’s very hot, and very sunny, and I did not feel like walking two kilometers in the midday sun. I went into a shoe shop thinking I would look for sneakers with smooth soles to pivot on but for some reason I felt inspired to ask them if they fixed heels.

“No, we only sell shoes,” the saleslady said, but she pointed me to a cobbler 100 meters away! A hundred meters–now that’s my kind of distance to walk in the afternoon heat! I found a lovely guy with a nondescript storefront who fixes shoes. They should be ready at 7:15 and if he does a good job I can keep dancing.

So reminded that it is all about persistence. Everything.

Getting these shoes fixed. Writing this memoir that I’ve been working on for the last five years. Looking for the life partner. Working on myself so I am capable of maintaining a healthy relationship and I’m happy whether or not I’m in one. Being a great coach. Running a business I’m proud of. Certainly publishing the Quirkyalone book and launching that movement took persistence–back in 2000 people in the publishing industry thought anyone with the capacity to enjoy alone time was a Ted Kaczynski living in a cabin.

When I work with my coaching clients too, persistence is usually the answer too. Epiphanies come and go. But the main thing, usually, is keep going. So keep going.


(Written during the Kolasin, Montenegro Summer Tango Camp. We didn’t actually camp, we stayed in hotels or houses. We–700 people–all came together for days and days of dancing, hiking, archery, tango learning, and meeting people from all over the world. An incredible event. You should come to the Summer Tango Camp + the Tango Adventure of course!)

24 hours in Ibiza

Ibiza style: Jody Day + moi (Sasha Cagen)

Ibiza (pronounce it Ibi-tha), an island off the coast of Spain in the Mediterranean, was stop three on my Forever Young Tour of Europe and it’s another one of those places that a friend’s invitation brought me to. I never imagined visiting Ibiza. If I thought about Ibiza, I pictured massive, throbbing nightclubs. That image was not so off. While on the island I noticed that you could buy club tickets at ATMs and I learned that the RyanAir flights to the island could already be drunken scenes. Someone I met told me about a couple even having sex in a seat on the airplane. Luckily my flight from Brussels to Ibiza was relatively tame, and there’s another side to Ibiza beyond the Las Vegas-style party scene.

Ibiza has a party reputation but I knew that if Jody Day was inviting me to join her birthday celebration on Ibiza there must be another side to the island and there is. Jody is a woman on a mission very similar to mine. Jody started Gateway Women, a community and blog and wrote a book with the express purpose of helping women who don’t have children but who wanted to heal their grief and create a Plan B for a fulfilling life without kids. Our work overlaps since I help women own their self-worth and create fulfilling lives on their own terms with or without a man—quirkyalone or quirkytogether.

I reached out to Jody a couple of years ago after I landed on her website–when I checked out her work, I thought, whoah, this woman and I need to meet! We became friends over Skype. (You can see this interview Jody did with me about “motherhood ambivalence” a few years ago where we get into all kinds of interesting taboo topics that are rarely talked about.)

When I posted on Facebook that I would be coming to Europe in July and August 2017, Jody reached out to invite me to visit her in London or Ibiza for her birthday. I chose the birthday on Ibiza, because, hey, fun, right? So the very first time we met in person was at the airport when Jody picked me up. How amazing was that?!

Jody, her friends and I spent five days together to celebrate her birthday. We got to do things together that you just can’t do over Skype, like go shopping for Ibiza-style fashion, laze on the beach in our bikinis with coffee topped with whipped cream and spend a day on a sailboat to celebrate Jody’s birthday.

not sure it gets better than this . . .

on the boat!

I often had to pinch myself to believe that we were getting this chance to connect in person in such a beautiful place. One night we visited a side of the island where revelers from all over Europe come to go to nightclubs. Like Las Vegas, that side of Ibiza is not my scene, but it was fun to see from an anthropological, traveling perspective. My favorite moment there was sunset, when the bar played classical music to mark the dip of the sun below the horizon and the sun and party-seekers all ritualistically gather to clap for the transition from day to night.

watching the sunset watchers to classical music as the earth eats the sun

Luckily Ibiza also has a hippie, chill, new-agey side. The other side of Ibiza appears to be international, the kind of people who do yoga and also party–say, they would not shy away from the hallucinogenic tea of Ayahuasca for spiritual expansion. Ibiza is also home to Esvedra, a rock area that is said to have electromagnetic healing properties like Sedona.

Through Jody I got to meet some wonderful women—her friend Selina Ingram from Wales who has lived in San Francisco and Las Vegas, and now lives in Ibiza. Selina organizes fundraisers for low-income people on the VIP Ibiza and calls her group on Ibiza “phenomenal women.” (You’ll be hearing more about my own version of the PW later this year . . . you’ll see us talking about that in the video below.)

I wish you could just eavesdrop on all the conversations that Jody and I had over the five days we spent together at the beach, by the pool, over wine, and on a sailboat trip to celebrate her birthday. . .I’ll give you a few of the highlights as I remember them. We talked about everything from how being single for most of her forties helped Jody get to know herself and prepare herself to have the healthiest happiest relationship she’s been in now in her fifties. We talked about the lonely sides of solo travel and what one can make to do to make solo travel more social. We talked too about how women can be “overwarned” about the dangers of travel. For example, when Jody came to the US a year ago with the dream of driving Highway 1 up the coast of California, people warned her about terrible US drivers. I wondered what they were talking about. For me drivers in the US are fine. Jody didn’t let the overwarning stop her.

In my opinion, the real danger can be letting other people’s fear-based projections scare you out of enjoying and living your life.

Here’s a little video I did with Selina about the international, spiritually-seeking side of Ibiza while we were on a sailboat day trip to celebrate Jody’s birthday!

If you’re considering visiting Ibiza this video will give you a view of what you can find on the other side beyond the mainstream party scene.

24 Hours in Gent, Belgium

the streets of gent are alive with . . . bikes!

I’ve been hearing about the Belgian city of Gent for seven years now since I met my friend Griet. Griet and I met in a hostel in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa, in 2010. She asked me to go out to a tango club the week we met–and the rest is his(her)story. We recognized each other as kindred spirits and we wound up spending the next two months together taking tango classes, and then, we went to Buenos Aires together for two months to discover the “real stuff” of tango together in Argentina.

Through it all, over many coffees and bottles of wine, we talked about where we had come from and where we were going. We had both quit jobs that didn’t feel true to ourselves to open ourselves to what would come next. For me that was the fast-paced, screen-obsessed world of Silicon Valley that I felt was more bent on addicting people to make money through advertising than anything else (I felt then just as Tristan Harris does now–as he sounds the alarm that most technology companies are working to drain our attention spans for their benefit and not our own), and for Griet that was organizing activities at a community center. We were both single back then, and many times, Griet told me, “Just come to Gent. We’ll find you a nice Belgian man!” She also described Gent as very cute.

Griet changed the course of my life by bringing me into tango, and just by being herself, a woman of high vitality who always says things like, “If I’m really honest. . . ” From Griet I learned that a turned-on life based on things you really want to do and embody begins with the phrase, “If I’m really honest. . . ” So I knew, when I planned this trip, I would have to visit her in the famous Gent! It had been five years since our last meeting in Asheville, North Carolina. This would be our fourth country, and our third continent, since we met in Colombia, then in Argentina, then in the U.S. five years later, and now, in Belgium!

the reunion of sasha and griet in gent!

Much has changed in both of our lives. Now I live in Buenos Aires (not Silicon Valley) where I have a tango business combining the dance with coaching (I also coach people one-on-one on everything from career to sexuality and write). Griet settled down with a man, and has a two-year-old with another baby on the way after opening a vegetarian restaurant. So I was excited to go and see Griet again. I expected our reunion would be great. I had no idea what to expect of Gent.

Belgium itself is vague in the imagination. The headquarters for the EU, Belgium always seemed to me a small place sandwiched between France and the Netherlands with no big personality of its own. I knew Belgium was split in two parts: people speak French in the south and Flemish in the north. I mistakenly thought Flemish was a language of its own. In my week in Gent, I realized Flemish is actually Dutch–a revelation on its own! In a lot of ways much of Belgium seems quite similar to the Netherlands. But it’s a small country between two big countries. I can identify with small places, having grown up in Rhode Island. I know there’s a special power in being the underdog, overlooked place.

So Belgium?! Gent?! What was it all about? People don’t really think about Belgium much–you have your Belgian fries and your Belgian beer, but beyond that, what can you say about Belgium? I would soon find out with Griet.

gorgeous Gent on my first night

On our first night we went out for a bike ride around Gent after Griet’s son was asleep. Already I was feeling bowled over by the beauty of the residential streets where Griet lived. Very simple, row houses of different hues, and most of the houses had bikes parked in front of them. It was like an alternative universe where instead of cars parked outside (though there were some) you had bikes parked outside with locks built into the structure of the bikes and the tires. Often the bikes had baby seats on them. Some of them were bikes built for two. To an outsider Gent looked like it was going through a baby boom where all the parents rode around with small children on their bikes.

the bikes in gent!

We biked past canals on bike lanes (reminiscent of my trip to Amsterdam 20 years ago) on bikes with big bags on either side of the wheels in the back. All the bikes in Gent had these bags. Then we arrived downtown and to put it mildly I was stunned. The city center of Gent is a gem. I was expecting “cute” from Griet and Gent was actually beautiful. Maybe this is part of the Belgian personality: modesty. The French have their rakish charm, the Belgians are more humble. I find that small places often have that quality. The Uruguyans too are modest and approachable compared to Argentines. (Small place next to big country.)

Gent is not so small. The city has 250,000 people and the city center is large. Here’s what Lonely Planet says: “Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses.” I would add to that, canals, bikes, cute people, and lots of biological (organic) cheese. Gent is a kind of fantasy of urban planning: small houses, bikes, small families on bikes, and tons of organic food everywhere. Seriously, if you are looking for a great, livable, more than cute city, Gent is the one.

biological cheese! bio, or biological, means organic in Europe. Gent abounds with cute bio places.

One our first night, we went to a bar that is famous for catering to travelers. I got a mojito, Griet got a virgin mojito since she’s pregnant. We started to catch up, finally getting to the man situation for me. Would I need Griet to find me that Belgian man? I told her about the latest in my love life and after that a guy a few tables over waved us over. He was an American, obviously–we had overheard him. He was from Dallas by way of New York and his mother had started a magazine in Belgium which somehow got him established in Gent. He had been living there for years and loved it.

The American gave us his critique of Gent: “mundane.” He thought life could be mundane in Gent because everyone was expected to settle down with a partner, buy a house, and pop out a kid or two. Of course that’s what Griet had done. She agreed with the critique–that life in Gent could be mundane.

I asked Griet if she thought I would feel isolated since I’m not married and don’t have children. She thought not.

I wasn’t sure if mundane was so bad when you have bikes, biological cheese, and beautiful canals.

Would it be mundane to live in Gent? So what is life in Gent like? For now I can’t really know, but here are some pictures to show you how fabulously cute–and beautiful–the city is.

Just one of the many bikes with child on board. So many versions of accommodating parent and child.

we ate them all!

Griet ate some Belgian fries too!

chairs at the cafe at voorhut, an old socialist hall transformed into a modern cultural center

to die for curry bowl, gluten-free at Le Botaniste

visit Le Botaniste for lunch in Gent. You will not be sorry.

Was He a Pervert or a Bra Expert?

this alluring bra shop got my attention in Paris. Soldes means Sales!

I couldn’t help but take notice of the store windows on my first morning in Belleville, the friendly neighborhood in Paris where I was staying for a week in early July.

The signs on the bra shop screamed, “GRANDES TAILLES, MEILLEURES PRIX”! “BIG SIZES, BEST PRICES”!

For a woman with an ample chest a good bra–and a good bra store–is hard to find.

With the promise of BIG SIZES, BEST PRICES, I felt a need, even an obligation, to enter. I actually even need bras. In Buenos Aires, where I’m living in 2017, there don’t seem to be any bra stores with sizes above DDD. I sometimes feel excluded when I pass lingerie stores in Buenos Aires and even a low-grade panic, what if all my bras break at once? Sometimes underwires pop out, or bras get damaged in the wash.

But the store looked mysterious. Signs covered the windows. The shop didn’t look like your average bra boutique. For days I delayed.

On Saturday after four days in the neighborhood I finally ventured outside with a mission: check out the bra store.

I opened the door and stepped inside, finding myself in a small, disorganized, square-shaped shop, the walls covered by little white cardboard boxes, presumably with bras inside, and bins full of merchandise on sale: bras and underwear. The shop was a mess, a far cry from the feminine, carefully decorated boutiques I’m used to in the States. It was not what you would call aesthetic.

A short bald man with a paunch belly stepped out from the back room and greeted me, “Bonjour.” He was the only one working at the shop, and there were no other customers. I froze. Who was this guy? Why was he the only one in the bra shop?

How could I exit gracefully? I didn’t want to be trapped in a bra store with this little bald pervert. When I go bra shopping in the States, a woman often comes into the dressing room with me to measure me and assess whether the bras fit. Would he want to go in the dressing room with me?

It was a long thirty seconds before I uttered the words, “I’m looking for a bra” in French. Those words took all my courage in the world in that moment to say.

“36G,” he said, naming my size.

“Yes,” I said, astonished that he had hit the mark. He was such a bra expert he could judge my size just from my appearance. It took me a long time, until years ago, to admit that I wasn’t a D and get a bra that actually fit properly.

He went in the back and pulled out two black and nude bras and handed them to me.

“Is that all you have in my size?” I asked. These bras looked matronly. A few years ago I made a commitment to myself, I will wear bras I find attractive and sexy, that don’t make me feel like a grandmother.

“Don’t worry, I have many options.” he said.

“I’m looking for a pretty bra,” I said in French. “Jolie.”

He smiled, “Pretty? You don’t think my bras are pretty? I only sell pretty bras!”

I started to laugh too, and then pointed out the styles I found appealing, including a peach and gray leopard print a mannequin was wearing.

32 euros! amazing sale price!

Another woman came in at this point, and he started to service her giving her options to try. She and I alternated using the sole small dressing room while he found bras for us. She seemed to love him. “This store is a gem of the neighborhood,” she said. “And he has great sales.”

She came out of the dressing room with her top on to get our opinion.

I gave her a thumbs up; so did he. I also tried on bras, then putting on my shirt to let them assess the bra fit.

In fact, I found an unusual abundance of options. I settled on two cute bras. The peach and grey one I adored and it was on sale for 32 euros, a fantastic price since the same brand would cost $80 in the U.S. The gray pinstriped one was 56 euros, an average price, still cheaper than what I paid in Oakland last year.

While he was ringing me up, I explained that I’m American but live in Buenos Aires where there are not many bra options for “full-sized” women. He laughed, “Oh, you’re American. You must stay in Buenos Aires far away from Trump!”

I left laughing and feeling uniquely uplifted (pun intended) by the encounter.

We question gendered assumptions about women’s roles. What about questioning roles for men? Can a man sell bras? Apparently.

I tried to ask if it was common for men to run bra shops in Paris but the question got lost in the shuffle and I didn’t get an answer. If I could go back in time, I would also ask, What made you open this shop? How did it happen that you’re a man running a bra shop?

Life is full of surprises when I breathe past my fear and find the courage to buy a bra from a man in Paris.

Here’s our guy!

Want to find the magical bra shop? Go looking on Rue de Belleville just a block from the Metro Jourdain in Paris.

Forever Young Tour

New experiment. I’m starting my Forever Young European tour this week. When I was leaving Rhode Island earlier this week to come to Paris, my mother remarked, “It’s just like you’re going off for two months in Europe after college!” I said, “That’s true!” I traveled alone in Europe for two months after college graduation, and that trip came in between my time in New York City and my time in San Francisco. Twenty years later, I’m going to Europe again for two months. So perhaps this will be a pattern, every twenty years (or let’s make that every five or ten years) I will do two months in Europe and call it the Forever Young Tour.

24 Hours in Paris (or my Parisgasm)

just people enjoying life in Paris!

During my 2017 Forever Young Tour, I’m going to do a recap on the first 24 hours in a new place, or a place where I have visited before. I’ve heard it said that there are two ways of doing travel writing: you can write about a place from deep knowledge, or you can capture your snap impressions. I’m going to experiment with capturing the first impressions, with all humility and acknowledgment that they are the impressions of a first day in a new place. It’s not the same as writing about a place where you have lived for a long time–see, for example, this post from a woman who moved to Mexico with her husband who had been deported from the US. Still, there’s an aliveness and freshness to new eyes that older, more inured eyes can’t compete with. So here’s my contribution.

So my first 24 hours in Paris! Impressions! I used to think of Paris as bourgeois and stuffy but my overall impression after 24 hours is a freewheeling, artsy, super-diverse city with a lot of joy for living. I got that idea last time when I met a bunch of Parisians who complained about coldness, but I haven’t experienced that this time. People seem very warm. Maybe it’s the weather. I was here in December last time, now it’s steamy July.

Here’s a little spontaneous video I made after arriving, on the first day:

More globalized than ever
I arrived at 6 am at Charles de Gaulle on July 4 and took the RER train then the metro into my airbnb in the 19th arrondissement. On the RER train we shot through the suburbs. I had stayed in the suburbs one night last time I was here in 2009 with a Tunisian friend made from Couchsurfing, and I’ve read enough about Paris to know that the suburbs are where people from former French colonies have felt isolated and cut off from economic opportunity. The challenges of a post-colonial world are real. All that said, I have to say, Paris felt remarkably diverse and peaceful on the train on the way in. Over my first 24 hours I saw a lot of cultural and racial mixing in the cafes near my apartment in the Metro Jourdain area, a lot of interracial friendships too (how can I tell the women were friends? You can just tell). So while I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of post-colonial racial mixing in Paris, I will say, I have never seen a city with more people in hijabs, or women in saris, or people of all races–and everyone basically seems to get along on the buses and metros. Fascinant. Oakland is the only other place where I have lived and seen such mixing. Cities like New York are diverse, but I never really felt that people mixed.

I’m staying in the perfect neighborhood
I am staying in a neighborhood called Belleville near Metro Jourdain and the people seem very mixed to me.

I am in love with the idea of people sitting drinking beer, coffee, wine.

paris cafe near metro jourdain

Wandering Paris is Parisgasmic.
During the first 24 hours, I needed to sleep, but by day two I could start to wander and it came back to me: I love being a flaneur in a new city. A flaneur is the solitary observer who wanders the streets and observes the crowd, a term coined by Baudelaire in Paris in the 19th century. There is no city where it’s more intoxicating to be a flaneur than Paris. Paris is beautiful. It is an aesthetic experience to walk the streets, to look at the way the light hits the buildings, to walk along the Seine. I don’t see any need to do touristy things in Paris. All I have to do is walk the streets and magic will come. Today I went looking for this delightful restaurant and cafe where you can literally work on your laptop inside a bathtub or on a bed! On the way I stumbled on the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Later my friend Alexa said it’s the most beautiful park in Paris. There’s always something beautiful around the corner.

Near Metro Jourdain

The fashion feels more expressive than formulaic

feminist/freemenist

I used to think there was a Parisian uniform that was neat and trim and always involved a scarf. I used to think I could never blend in Paris and I would always stick out as a gauche American. I feel more breathing room in the fashion now. The fashion is still expressive, fun, unique, but the fashion seems more diverse and expressive. My guess is that’s because there’s so much global influence now there appear to be more ways to be French.

Jumping into the global tango culture
One of the best parts about being a tango dancer is that you always have somewhere to go at night when you visit a new city. On my first day, I slept six hours so I could get up my energy to go out and meet Sabine, who had come on a Tango Adventure in March in Buenos Aires. Sabine sent me an email two months ago inviting me me to meet her at a milonga on the Seine. Sabine lives in DC but she is from France and happened to be visiting. My friend Alexa was also planning to go, so we went and met up with Sabine and Senami, who had both come on the March Tango Adventure. How magical it was to dance tango on the Seine on July 4. Tango is a global culture and it’s always fascinating to plug in in a new place.

When I left the milonga the metro had already closed so I had to figure out a way to get home. A taxi was an option but maybe it would be very expensive. Some new French friends guided me to the bus stop and we found another French woman who agreed to tell me the stop to get off at, Gambetta. I didn’t have a European chip yet for my phone, so I had no GPS. But there’s nothing like new friends to be your own personal GPS. That’s part of the magic of traveling alone, especially as a woman traveling alone. People come out of the woodwork to help you along get where you need to go. (It’s easy to forget this when fears come up about traveling alone, but strangers really do help out.)

Next door to the cafe-barge hosting the milonga there was a big USA party to celebrate the Fourth of July too. (Don’t worry about traveling in the Trump era! Generally people know how to separate people from their leaders.)

Walking along the Seine looking for the milonga. La vie est belle!

Paris milonga on the Seine on a cafe-barge (the night I arrived!)

Senami and Sabine joined me in Buenos Aires for a Tango Adventure. Amazingly we met up in Paris on the day I arrived at a milonga.

The food is still a delight, even as a celiac
During the first 24 hours I have a special challenge in any new country: eating. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010 a year after my last trip to Paris. This means I need to make sure that my food is gluten-free with no traces of contamination. We’re the people who have to take gluten very seriously. Undaunted, however, I had read up on eating gluten-free in Paris and knew it had gotten better for celiacs over the last five years.

On my first day, I went in to this lovely cafe two blocks from my apartment to explain my needs and ask if they had anything gluten-free. “Nothing sans gluten,” the bar man said. “A salad?” I asked. I explained to them what it means to do gluten-free. They said sure, they could do a salad. The waitress brought the salad out with a piece of toast on the plate. Of course I had to say no. She snatched the toast away thinking this would be sufficient and I had to say no again. A piece of toast on my salad plate is clear cross-contamination. (All a celiac needs to activate the disease is 20 parts per million of gluten–a miniscule amount.) “I’m a celiac, it’s a rule,” I explained in French. “Un regle.” I asked her if she would go back to the kitchen staff to explain. She came back and said they would replace the salad, this time being careful, washing their hands and everything.

Here was the poached salmon salad that came back. it was gorgeous and delightful. I ate all of it.

poached salmon salad–gluten-free.

Update: My French friend Eric read this post and told me, actually Belleville the neighborhood where I am staying is one of the most “popular” (meaning down-to-earth, mixed, and racially mixed) neighborhoods in Paris, and that many of the other arrondissements feel like rich, white ghettoes to him where even he, being white, feels uncomfortable. Some people like that, and some people don’t. So my sense of a different Paris was confirmed. f you want that friendly mixed feel you should try staying in Belleville, or at least visiting it.

How Can You Be a Feminist and Like Tango?

By Sasha Cagen

“You’re not getting the lead,” he tells me. Gruff, mid-fifties, beady eyes, a ponytail dwindling halfway down his back, Ponytail Man chose me as his partner for this advanced tango class at Floreal, a traditional milonga in Buenos Aires. It’s nice to be chosen, but now I’m not sure. Two famous teachers, los Totis, are teaching an unusual sequence. We’ve danced three songs and aren’t getting it. (A milonga, for those who do not dance, is the sacred place where where people gather to dance tango.)

“You have a vicio (a bad habit) with your elbow that is breaking the lead,” he barks, clearly blaming me. I narrow my eyes and stay silent to keep the peace.

After two songs I escape his clutches and try the move with the teacher. No problem. I try the sequence with another man, a sweet twentysomething in a gray suit with a pink handkerchief who is trying with all the women in the room. With him the move works fluidly.

Ratty Ponytail Man, standing in the corner, beckons me to try again.

“I will try if it’s in the spirit of being partners,” I tell him. “I got it fine with the others.” This time I’m not letting him walk all over me.

Time stops, and the room goes fuzzy.

“You don’t want me to tell you things?” he says, his eyes incredulous. “You need to know you are in tango and tango is machista. Tango is the creation of men, that’s the way it is and you need to accept it, you are in Buenos Aires.” He looks around the room, as if I don’t know where I am. “You can go to milongas with the pibes (boys) where it’s 50-50 but in a traditional milonga it’s machista and that’s the way it is.”

To be “macho” could be a male aspiration, to be manly, strong, protective, and even nurturing. But in Argentina machista has come to mean “chauvinist,” a male desire for control and domination.

“So what does that mean? I don’t get a voice?” I ask in disbelief.

“If you want to become a professional dancer then you can have something to say. You need to work on your turns.”

“Oh, right. My turns. So I need to be a professional to say something. I’m here to enjoy myself.”

He extends his hand to me. Does he really think I’m going to dance with him now? Is blatant sexism attractive to other women?

“You tire me. I’m tired,” I say.

He stalks off. I sink into a chair on the periphery and watch him invite his new partner. . . err, victim. His bluntness shocks me. This is a man’s world so shut up and accept it? Really? I grew up in Rhode Island in the 80s listening to Annie and Free to Be You and Me, believing that the world belonged equally to all of us.

The milonga starts. I join three friends over a bottle of Malbec. My three friends and I met in 2012 at Dinzel Studio, a hippie tango school that teaches the dance as a dialogue between equals. I tell them about Ponytail’s comments as I pour myself a glass of wine.

Elyse, a French physicist who switched careers to become a tango teacher, says, “You should have recorded it. It’s such a caricature.”

Linda, a physical therapist from Idaho, tells me, “He’s a jerk, let it go.”

I can’t seem to let it go. I change out of my tango shoes and into street shoes and on the way out I pass the male Toti smoking a cigarette in the vestibule. I tell him what happened.

He says, “You shouldn’t put up with that.”

“I tried and got a machista speech.”

Mala suerte (bad luck),” he says with sympathetic eyes that say, “Move on.”

Easy for you to say, dude, I think, as I head out to find a cab. Perhaps I’m being dramatic. Perhaps not. Perhaps this is a moment of seeing reality for what it is. Tango reflects society, and brings up many of the familiar struggles of womanhood. The older I get, the more clearly I see that sexism shapes our world. I didn’t notice sexism as much when I was younger and the beneficiary of youth’s privileges. But now I can’t deny that arrogant men will mansplain on the dance floor and there’s far more pressure on women to look decorative, young and thin than there is on men.

Why would I accept sexist rules in the world I love? I flag down a cab and get in. These are my spinning thoughts on the cab ride home, through Buenos Aires’ graffiti- and street-art-marked streets of European buildings and Latin chaos. You’re supposed to be a good girl and smile and pretend that sexism doesn’t exist. I don’t feel like pretending. When I get home I slam the cab door.

Is tango macho?
The next day I call Miles on Skype. Miles is my Argentine ex, and ever since we broke up, he’s remained a close friend and interpreter of Argentine culture and men. Miles is a sensitive Argentine man, intellectual, kind, very unlike the stereotype of the arrogant Porteño (resident of Buenos Aires). Back when we were getting to know each other in 2013, Miles would come over to drink mate–the ultimate Argentine ritual, a way of relaxing and doing nothing together–and listen to tango songs. He shared explicitly macho songs with me, like the classic “Porque Canto Asi,” “Why I Sing as I Do.” The lyrics radiate macho feeling:
And I was made in tangos
Because … Because tango is macho!
Because tango is strong!
It has something of life,
It has something of death.

After playing that song for me, Miles asked me, “How can you be a feminist and like tango?”

I laughed. Why not? “Of course I can,” I said. “Feminism is about freedom. It’s about seeing women as human beings. A feminist can enjoy dancing.”

Everyone who knows me knows I am a feminist. I have never hesitated to use the f-word to describe myself; it’s always seemed like the most common-sense thing in the world. I’m a woman, why wouldn’t I support women?

Everyone who knows me also knows I love tango. I rearranged my life to live in Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango, back in 2012.

Nothing has ever given me more mind-cleansing pleasure (or revelation) than tango. I like being seen as a woman. and I don’t mean dresses or high heels. I mean being a woman in the deepest sense: embodying femininity, receiving a masculine energy and sending something feminine back. I love being embraced by men with puffed-out chests that invite me to puff my chest out too. I enjoy the gender play: being a woman and dancing with a man, or even, being a woman and dancing with a woman who adopts the masculine, assertive lead role.

As a tango follower, I close my eyes, surrender to the music and the moment and let go in a way that I don’t do in any other part of my life. Tango has also made me taller. In six years, tango molded me into a queen in a way no therapy or physical therapy ever could have. Tango trained me to stand up straight with a more powerful physical presence.

Why should there be any contradiction at all between tango and feminist? Tango is a lead-follow dance. Men lead. Women follow.

Do we see the dance as a dance of equals?

Do men see followers as equals?

Do we women see ourselves as equals?

After last night with Ponytail, I wonder if Miles was right. I tell him the story of Ponytail and now it’s Miles’s turn to laugh.

“Obviously your feminism is stronger than your love for tango.”

“You’re right,” I tell him. “I refuse to stay in an environment that degrades me.”

“Tango is very macho,” he said. “And Buenos Aires tango is more macho.”

“I know,” I said.

What am I supposed to do, stop dancing? If we’re honest, tango in Buenos Aires is not the only male-dominated arena. What about Congress, Uber, Fox-news, or the streets? If most of the world is male-dominated, how do women keep dancing within it?

A couple at Bar Laureles, a nostalgic tango restaurant in Buenos AIres

Tango’s roots
Ponytail man was right about one thing. Tango’s origins are definitely history: the dance was born primarily among men. Tango’s roots come from Africa, the Caribbean, and the pampas (the plains of Argentina), but most agree that the dance crystallized in Buenos Aires and Rosario, Argentina and Uruguay, in port cities among waves of immigration from Europe in the late 19th century.

In the late 19th century Buenos Aires was male-dominant. More men than women sailed from Spain and Italy to Argentina, hoping to make their fortune and return to Europe. Most stayed in Argentina and Uruguay, where there were few women. Men practiced tango together in crowded conventillos (like the teeming tenements on New York’s Lower East Side) with the hope of getting good enough to dance with a woman. Tango was the lonely man’s chance to embrace a woman. Some would say that tango was always an homage to the woman, to the mother, to the desire for a hug.

Fast forward 120 years. Tango went dark under Argentina’s repressive dictatorship and bounced back going global in Europe, the U.S., and Asia in the 90s. The gender situation has reversed. Globally and in Buenos Aires, more women than men dance.

Even though women are now the majority in tango a macho vibe persists. Sexism dies hard out of respect for the traditional codes.

The only way for a woman to escape the sexism seems to be to learn to lead. A leader, male or female, can ask anyone to dance. Women leaders are now enjoying an in-vogue status in Buenos Aires where they had to fight for respect in the past. I enjoy leading. Dancing the lead allows me to fully express my musicality. While following taught me about surrendering to the moment and pleasure, leading helps me develop qualities of decisiveness and assertion.

But my first love is undeniably following.

Finding myself as a follower
But I can’t help but ask, if tango is macho, or machista, does the feminine energy in the follower role get a fifty percent equal role in the dance?

I have been to many tango classes where tango teachers teach passivity in the female role. I’ll never forget the women’s technique class I took from a well-known Argentine woman teacher who told a group of women, “Technique is all you need. You don’t need any style. If you had a style, that would actually hurt because you would be less malleable.” I wondered if she thought a woman’s job was to be malleable off the dance floor as well as on it. She was married to her dance partner. I thought of a woman adopting all the preferences and personality of her husband. You like that wine, I love that wine. You love that neighborhood, I love that neighborhood. She was a beautiful dancer but there was something generic about her dance. It was technically perfect but soulless. Boring. She seemed too malleable.

I love the female role in tango. But I also want a voice. I want to be a full partner, not a sexy rag doll being danced by a man. Following is boring if don’t make it your own. I want to feel like I’m dancing.

After five years of dancing, my discontent with boring following welled up within me. I decided to do something about it by August 2015. I stop taking classes from that woman and return to DNI, a tango school founded by Dana Frigoli, a woman who teaches an active female role based in technical precision. If you want to be a strong woman, you need the inspiration of other strong women.

When truly expressive women dance there is a higher order to the game. You speak with your own voice in your follower response; you make your personality apparent. This is the active follower who speaks.

I book a lesson with Vicky Cutillo, a teacher who often wears cargo pants and Converse sneakers. She doesn’t seem worried about dressing traditionally hot (after all, there’s nothing less sexy than feeling obliged to dress sexy) and when she gives performances with her husband Jose, you can see her daring and teasing him before connecting with him. She’s ridiculously sexy, never boring.

“What do you want to learn today?” Vicky asks as she queues up songs on her iPod.

“Aesthetics. I want to dance more beautifully. Expression.”

“Bueníssimo,” she says with a sparkle of excitement. “Great. Learning aesthetics is the most exciting part of the learning process.”

We dance two songs. The lesson takes an unexpected turn. “The first thing to learn is how to brake the man,” Vicky explains. “This is how you show him that it’s your time. You squeeze his hand this way, at the same time grip his back put energy into your own back muscles to say, STOP. This is my moment.” I find this fascinating, and I listen to her carefully.

“It’s also important to be aware of the music at the same time,” she explains, “because you are choosing to decorate a moment. You don’t randomly stop your partner at a moment when it doesn’t make sense.”

“Tomar espacio?” I ask. “To take up space?” I expected her to teach me technical things about how to make embellishments with my feet, but she is teaching me the technique of the follower’s assertion within the couple. To make our voices heard, we have to make space for them.

“Yes, to take up space.” Vicky looks delighted that I had used these words, as if she knows there is a feminist trajectory in learning tango. A beginner starts out simply following, but as you advance you learn how to express yourself too within the lead-follow dynamic.

Tango already had unlocked so many things for me: the ability to live in the moment, let go, stop thinking, feel pleasure and stand up straighter. But this lesson felt like the cherry on top of all the other lessons. In a very physical way, tango was teaching me how to shine as a woman in a male-led dance. I could use my body to speak. To use braking body language, “Mi amor, mi vida, this is my time.”

Tango lessons have always translated for me as a reference point for life off the dance floor. The world de facto tells women to take up less space: to cross our legs while men spread theirs on the subway; to diet; to smile when a man interrupts us; to slouch to make ourselves invisible on the street. Tango, by contrast, teaches a woman to be bigger. To stand tall and proud in the encounter with a man.

When I learn something through my body I remember it. Movement anchors the lesson throughout my whole body, not just in my head.

The true meaning of “it takes two to tango”
For my final session that month, I booked a session with JuanPi, one of my favorite teachers. “What do you want from this class?” he asks. “Expression,” I say. “I’m working on being more expressive.”

After the first few dances, JuanPi says, “Show me you. Be more you. I don’t feel you. You need to have confidence that what you are doing is good. You will be playing a game to see who likes that and who doesn’t. What would you say to those men who don’t want it?”

“I’m a person, too,” I say, suppressing a laugh.

The music comes on, a strong beat from Di Sarli’s “Champagne Tango.” JuanPi wraps me in an embrace and I do the same. He walks and pivots slowly, giving me the time to feel the music. I make rhythmic taps with my feet. I pause when I feel the music calls for it to heighten the drama in our connection. I caress my own leg and his with my calf and heel. Between dances we slap five. We feel like a team. JuanPi is clearly still leading, but he’s also listening—and following me. I feel a joy in tango that I had not felt in a long time because I feel like I am actually dancing

After giving JuanPi multiple hugs at the end of our lesson, I bounce down the streets of Almagro, one of the Buenos Aires’ traditional tango neighborhoods to an antique Café Notable, Nostalgia. We took a video of our final songs. I order a cortado (coffee with a bit of milk) and after I order, I press play. I am eager to see if the dance looks as it felt. In the video, I see something I have never seen from myself before: a dialogue, a woman contributing half of the conversation. Suddenly, the cliché “it takes two to tango” makes sense in a new way. The dance is better with two fully formed individuals adding their own flourishes, pauses, interjections. You don’t follow, you dance; one person inspires the other.

Suddenly, the cliché “it takes two to tango” makes sense in a new way. The dance is better with two fully formed individuals adding their own flourishes, pauses, interjections. You don’t follow, you dance; one person inspires the other.


It’s been a year since the run-in with Ponytail. I haven’t left the milongas. I am clear about what I’m dealing with. When I go out to dance tango, I look for the men who want equal participation from women and screen out those who do not. I study only with teachers who value the female role.
Miles and I continue to talk about the uphill battle of changing a machista culture. He warns me not to have any illusions. I don’t. The macho nature of Porteño tango culture is strong. I spend time in other communities like yoga and tantra where people share more explicitly feminist values.

Men like Ponytail are still out there, as are women who want to follow passively, as are men who find those women dancers boring. What I’ve discovered as a feminist in tango is that male allies are critical. If I dance as an active follower with someone who wants passivity, we will be in a battle of the sexes. When I dance with a man who welcomes equal participation, we can dance.

Ponytail and much of his generation will never get it. But culture evolves as the dance evolves. It’s also important to work on how I see myself. It’s easy to fall into my own potholes of inferiority. Sometimes, when I’m getting ready to dance, after I spray on my perfume, I give myself a one-sentence pep talk, “I will see myself as an equal.” Then I go out to dance.


Note: To go deep into the gender dynamics of traditional tango invitation, watch the brilliant feminist anthropologist Marta E. Savigliano break down the “active passivity” of the milonguera in this video on the Wallflower and the Femme Fatale.

Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult hit Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics; she’s at work on a memoir called Wet. Sasha lives in Buenos Aires where she teaches the Tango Goddess workshop to help women find empowerment through their bodies for the milonga, on the street, and in the worplace.She also offers the transformative 7-Day Tango Adventures for those who want a supportive, transformative experience in Buenos Aires tango. She uses tango as a tool in her life coaching practice.

To stay in touch and follow her writing and work, sign up for her newsletter the Sasha Cagen Weeklyish.